Merle Haggard, the Country musician, who arose from the prison only to become a poetic voice of the working man with hits like “If We Make It Through December’’ & “Mama Tried,’’ had died on Wednesday at 79 said his manager Frank Mull.
The country legend had cancelled all his performances for April due to his illness.
“Haggard’s exceptionally true intonation, his command of varied vocal textures & his insinuating phrasing would make him a superior vocalist in any idiom,” said the New York Times, adding “Like Muddy Waters in blues field & only a handful of other performers, he both embodies & transcends his rich American musical heritage.”
Haggard’s sound illustrated from the traditional country but also touched on pop, jazz, folk, rock and blues and his songs were covered by likes of the Elvis Costello, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Grateful Dead.
“I cannot remember when I have not listened to him,” said Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones guitarist. “Some of the best songs & best delivery you can get,” he added.
Haggard was born April 6, 1937, near Bakersfield, California, who’s father died of brain tumor when he Haggard was 9. After which he quit school in 11th grade and began hopping the freight trains. He also took up guitar & petty crime & frequently was placed in juvenile reformatories.
A few years later, he was living out the lyrics of what would be 1 of his biggest hits – “Mama Tried,” that was the story of a man who marked his 21st birthday in the prison.
“I would have become a lifetime criminal if music had not saved my ass,” said Haggard in a PBS documentary, adding “I am living proof that things go wrong in America and I am also living proof that things can go right.”
Haggard had often told the interviewers that he wasn’t political but his songs revealed that he was certainly dogmatic & a libertarian thinker. In 2003 he protected Dixie Chicks from fans’ backlash after they had criticized President George W. Bush & had written a song in the tribute to the former first lady Hillary Clinton when she was in the hunt for the presidency back in 2007.
Haggard had part of a lung removed in 2008 because of the cancer but was performing again within 2 months, and died on Wednesday at the age of 79.